Sunday, September 25, 2011

High Altitude Cooking and the Metric System

I enjoy cooking.  But cooking has been an adventure since we moved to South America.  Not only are there fruits and vegetables here that I've never seen before, but living at 8,000 feet presents some challenges, as well as learning the metric system.  Why is the U. S. not on the metric system?  It sure would make it easier for everyone to be on the same system, as most of the world is on the metric system.

(Note:  C = centigrade, and F = fahrenheit)

The reason that the high altitude affects cooking and baking is because of the lower atmospheric pressure due to a thinner blanket of air.  As altitude increases, atmospheric pressure decreases, and this in turn causes:
  • Water to boil at 196.9 degrees F (at my altitude) instead of 212 degree as at sea level.
  • Leavening (baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar) to expand more.
  • Yeast doughs to rise too quickly and too high.
  • Sugar solutions to become more concentrated in frostings, candies, jellies, and baked products.
  • Faster evaporation of liquids in all cooking processes.
  • Drying out of normal moisture in most food products.

I am using a high altitude cookbook that I bought on Amazon when I was back in the States.  And a friend has given me a bi-lingual Andean cookbook, using the produce you'll find in the markets here.  I'm just starting to learn how to cook with the different recipes.

In addition, it is necessary to convert from the U. S. customary system to the metric system, such as:

Oven Temperatures
Slow Oven:          (300 to 325 F) converts to 149 to 163 C
Moderate Oven:   (340 to 375 F) converts to 177 to 191 C
Hot Oven;            (400 to 425 F) converts to 204 to 218 C.
(Remember that water freezes at 0 degrees C, and boils at 100 degrees C.)

Other Conversions:
  • A liter equals a little more than a quart (1 quart plus 3 tablespoons)
  • A kilogram equals a little more that two pounds (2.2 pounds)
  • 1 cup of butter equals 200 grams
  • 1 cup of sugar equals 190 grams
  • 1 cup of flour equals 140 grams
  • 1 cup of rice equals 150 grams
  • 1 cup of liquids equals 1/4 liter

There are many cities in the  U. S. at high altitudes so this information is just a review for many cooks living in the mountains.

Other Differences Not Relating to Cooking
  • Also, an easy rule of thumb in converting the outside temperature from centigrade to fahrenheit is:  take the C temperature and double it, then add 30 and you'll get an estimate of the F temperature.
  • I've learned how to tell time on a 24 hour system (i.e., 20:00 = 8PM)
  • The date is different here (i.e., October 1st (10/01/11) is 01/10/11 (day first, then month).
  • Numbers are written with the commas and decimals switched (i.e., $5.89 = $5,89; $1,364 = $1.364; $1,740,003 = $1'740.003).
  • And don't even get me started on the language difference!
Oh well, lots to learn and laugh about.  My spanish lessons are going great.  My friend Noshy comes to my apartment three days a week for two hours at a time and in spite of our laughing and joking, we do accomplish some learning on my part.

Until next time (hasta luego),


  1. "Why is the U. S. not on the metric system? It sure would make it easier for everyone to be on the same system, as most of the world is on the metric system."

    If you recall, there was a big push to convert to metric in the U.S. back in the 1970s. It foundered because a) way too much of the education consisted of drilling people in difficult conversion equations rather than just teaching it as a brand-new, logical system, and b) because certain political forces found a way to make hay by portraying it as "big government" trying to force us to drop "the normal American way" of doing things and replacing it with one from...gasp!...Europe (and, even worse...FRANCE!!!).

  2. I remember the proposed change to the metric system in the U.S. It could have been done if they would have started teaching it in the elementary schools.

    We moved to Ecuador from a small town in Southern Arizona. When we moved there, we found out it was the first and only test area for the metric system so all of the highway signs are in kilometers instead of miles, and remain so to this day. We learned about kilometers that way!

  3. Patty,
    Have you used a pressure cooker. They are safe to use these days and they make cooking a breeze at high altitude.

  4. Hi Rick,

    I have never used a pressure cooker but probably should buy one eventually. I remember my mother used one but they scare me.

    I do have a crock pot and it works great at this altitude. But maybe I'll break down and buy a pressure cooker. Can you recommend a good one for me?

  5. You can have mine Patty. It is state of the art but I'm scared to use it. My sister and I bought a great scale at williams sonoma. It does both metric and regular and is for liquid and dry measure. My sister took hers to Jordan. It is awesome for international recipes. Check it out.